The Pequod Review:
Daniel Yergin’s masterful history of oil, The Prize, has lost a bit of relevance given the enormous changes that have taken place in the energy industry since it was published in 1991. But the book remains a fabulous work of narrative non-fiction, one that manages the rare skill of being both detailed and comprehensive. Yergin’s book begins with the drilling of the first oil well in 1859 near Titusville, PA and traces the history of fossil fuels all the way through Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait (which took place four months before the book was published). In between, Yergin covers an astonishing range of topics, including the structure and evolution of the oil producers, the development of extraction technologies that allowed new regions to access oil reserves, and the role of oil in domestic and international politics. Yergin is in such command of his material that he is able to draw on exactly the right anecdote or detail to illustrate a broader point, and he brings fresh perspective to well-known individuals like John D. Rockefeller, J. Paul Getty, and the Shah of Iran. Because of the importance of oil to the modern world, the book becomes not just a history of energy — but also of business, economics, international relations, economic development and geology. The Prize belongs in a very special class, alongside Robert Caro’s landmark biographies or perhaps the best work of John McPhee. Popular non-fiction doesn’t get much better than this.